Monday, April 12, 2010

Books I'm Reading: Sex on the Brain

I just finished reading Deborah Blum's Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women (1997, Penguin paperback edition), a well-written, entertaining, occasionally enlightening look at the biology behind sex differences. Although there wasn't much that seemed startlingly new, I enjoyed this. It is a concise, clear overview of a very wide range of research on the subject of sex differences.

The book includes excellent chapters on: Why sex exists at all; on the physical differences between male and female brains (there are very few, they are very subtle, and it's not at all clear what the few discernible differences mean); on emotional differences (yes, men and women build friendships and networks differently); on monogamy and polygamy (the former turns out to be very rare in the world--the human species is described as "slightly polygamous"); on homosexuality; on testosterone in men (and women); on estrogens and the female cycle (which involves far more than menstruation); on love, lust, and rape; and on gender and power.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Deborah Blum's writing here is its objectivity. There are no gender polemics in a book that could easily have been biased, and she shows an extraordinary sensitivity in her discussions of such things as hormone effects on both men and women and of rape. Frankly, it was fascinating to listen to a female voice so lucidly and empathetically articulating the typical emotional and behavioral effects of testosterone on men. Her discussion of rape as possibly persisting in human culture because it may make biological sense was somewhat uncomfortable to read, but convincing. There is much here to explain why we behave the way we do without giving anyone (male or female) facile excuses for bad behavior. Recommended.

Hmmm.... What to read next?

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